Bob Dylan’s Hurricane and . . . Covid-19?
There’s a parallel: The patsy, the coverup, the guilty go free, and more. Here’s the plot.
Dr. Philip Maffetone
Folk music frequently applies the uniquely human capacity for passionate storytelling in exposing social injustices. These stories can counter the mundane news reports of events, revealing what’s covered up underneath. Like a covert lyric in a sweet love song.
While many songs come with diverse interpretations, news media reports do too. Gone are the days, it seems, when investigative reports unearth a forgotten truth. Storytelling, however, is an art, not a science. These variations on a theme are attractive to many, and have been known to unleash suspicion, anger, and mistrust. The disputes can go in all directions, from violent protests to lengthy legal actions. Much of the unrest of the 1960s, for example, stemmed from songs about the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement.
Which brings us to the story of Hurricane and Covid-19. Both are associated with modern events full of factual accusations, especially the virus, which has brought its own hurricane of issues regarding freedom and other unalienable rights. (In case you need to hear Hurricane, have a listen)
In Dylan’s song, it was the case of boxer Hurricane Carter, a Black man found guilty of murder (eventually overturned). In the case of Covid-19, our freedom is challenged as vaccine mandates, and government edicts such masks, home confinement, lockdowns, and other quarantines pose a threat to individual and social liberties, including the freedom of health. The guilty, as always, go free.
Both cases single out those who are accused or blamed, the guilty, and leave us wondering how those most responsible can continue doing such deeds. While Hurricane Carter’s case was eventually overturned and he was freed (after nearly two decades in prison; and passing away in 2014), the world is currently imprisoned, as some refer to it, by the pandemic. Innocent people are living under hellish circumstances.
Making comparisons between a serious global pandemic and a folk song is not too difficult. I’ve published scientific studies on Covid-19, and other articles discussing uncommon or unreported pandemic topics. As a singer-songwriter I also write storytelling social injustice songs. Lookin’ the Other Way is a social commentary about a shooting, with children lying in a pool of blood. As I write this, Dylan’s lyrics eerily remind me how they could also easily pertain to a school shooting (although Hurricane was not in my conscious mind when writing Lookin’ the Other Way).
A theme of misplaced blame runs through both Hurricane and Covid-19. One of the easily recognized patsies was Hurricane Carter, the man the authorities came to blame. For Covid-19, who’s the one who did the deed? The blame has been thrust on a virus, yet it’s the unhealthy body that makes people more vulnerable. Healthy people usually resist microbes, or have the ability to survive them even stronger if infected. As Hurricane tells the story of racism, legal injustices, and other social issues, the pandemic is a very similar. One key addition is that it’s sponsored by Big Junk Food.
Dylan isn’t the only musician to speak of blame. In Tom Waits’ The Piano Must be Drinking, he sings about someone playing very poorly, which is, of course, the piano’s fault. At the end, he adds the lyric — not me — and resoundingly resolves the blame.
We live in a world where blaming makes us think we feel better. The phone, the computer, The Bug! We often place the blame on someone, some group, the supernatural, or ourselves. We might even think it removes responsibility. With Covid, we blame the virus; it’s mean and sinister, ugly too. This approach at least makes for a good headline and besides, it’s human nature.
But if we’re going to place blame, let’s at least put it on those truly responsible.
How serious a problem is a little piece of pie? What about just one cigarette? Today’s scientific literature emphasizes that junk food is the new tobacco. The most damaging ingredient is sugar, whose addictive effects are not dissimilar to cocaine and heroin. There is no junk food in moderation. How serious a problem is a little line of heroin?
Hurricane and Covid-19 have both drawn into play the usual suspects. Political power, government decrees, corporate conglomerates, all wrapped in big money. And justice is just a game.
While health is one of our unalienable rights, political greed and corporate profits talk another language. For decades, governments have impaired our individual freedom to be healthy by allowing and encouraging — and literally promoting — unhealthy food. Just as they were with tobacco, governments remain in bed with Big Junk Food — not to mention the medical-industrial complex, which reaps the benefits of a sick population.
Politicians are redefining freedom, making decisions for us that we should make ourselves or with a doctor. All the while allowing corporate greed to inflict poor health on billions of people instead of working for the greater good of society.
Another world would cast Covid-19 on trial. Instead, the media (and governments) all went along for the ride, twisting the truth while increasingly poor health left the world’s population ripe for an infectious pandemic. Not only in America, where 91 percent of adults are overfat, but countries like India too, with a rate of 80 percent overfat thanks to junk food. The two pandemics are a perfect one-two punch.
Just as Big Tobacco’s products directly cause devastating diseases, Big Junk Food is clearly responsible for the global overfat/chronic illness connection, and the vulnerability to Covid-19. And they make it easy: Sugar and other junk food is extremely cheap, accessible everywhere, heavily marketed to all age groups (their ads are called food porn), highly addictive and the U.S. and other governments subsidize it.
All this makes me feel ashamed to live in a land where justice is a game. The preventable and predictable loss of lives from junk food is in the billions. And the guilty go free.
Unlike Hurricane, hugely popular worldwide, songs about the damage done by junk food don’t exist, at least none sexy enough to catch on. Maybe someday we’ll hear a hit social injustice song that forces governments to stop encouraging ill health. Imagine.
That’s the story of Hurricane and Covid-19. But it won’t be over until society clears the game board and takes back control of health. Until then, we still have personal control and the ability to become our own champions of the world.